I took a walk around that beautiful, but lonely, place. The crisp, cold air stirred only at the sound of gravel beneath my feet. The houses, now dark and empty, cast vacant gazes out across the ever-still water. Its glassy surface reflected the stars peering down from above.
I pulled deeper into my coat, trying to escape the frigid assault of the air. I shivered, but not for the cold alone. There was a desolation, hanging like an unseen cloud. Everything had been warped by it into a nightmare reflection. The colorful and charming houses lost their cheeriness, becoming vague geometric tombs in so many variations of gray. In them, lives that were spent came to fade away and be forgotten.
Here, the end of days was not merely a morbid prediction. I stood alone, the only living person in this quiet apocalypse.
Removing myself there remained only the trinkets and baubles that marked the lives now gone. How long would it take nature to reclaim the rocky shores? Or would we rush in another batch of spent lives to wait on death?
Despite my protests, my feet carried me down the hill to the water’s edge. There, they thumped heavily on the wooden planks. I looked down into the water and saw only the stars looking back up.
Then, the blooms started to rise. They were great circles brushing up against the water’s surface. They were white, yellow, orange and brown and in numbers that surprised me. They seemed to drift alongside the dock.
Part of me knew an instinctive fear. I felt as though I stood in the jaws of an invisible trap just waiting to close on me. Then, my thoughts turned darker.
What was life anyway? We waste a little time here and then go back to the nothing that we came from. Everything that seems so important eventually comes to be nothing and is forgotten. For all the struggle, what did we gain? But there was another way…
I caught myself there, what other way?
Embrace it. Stop fighting it and give in. It’s all right there, waiting. Just jump in. It’s only cold for a moment. We’re all waiting.
“Us,” came a voice ringing in my head.
Then, there was a stirring in the blooms. A bubble was growing at the center of each, rising up through the colord slime. But as they grew I saw they were not bubbles, but the tops of skulls, coated by the thick slime. They kept rising up and out until they stood on the bloom.
They began to whisper, working their jaws and gurgling.
They spoke of life and it’s great failures and I saw images in my mind and felt all the despair that went with them. I felt broken hearts and knew the burden of shattered hopes and crushed dreams.
Somehow they held me there, unable to run or even scream. They danced as they stood on the top of the water, swaying as they gurgled and oozed slime in long, slow strings. Their voices seemed countless, a choir of lost souls sang in a cacophonous stream of consciousnesses that bombarded me.
Just step in and join us. We share everything. All the hurt goes away and there is love and peace and things that make love and peace seem like nothing. We are all one here, there is no more pain. There is no fear. Join us, we are all one. We can be together, forever…
I had moved without knowing it until I stood on the edge of the dock. My toes were over the edge and I teetered. I began to fight for balance feeling certain that I was about to plunge into the freezing water, into death and something worse. I fought against it feeling myself submitting to some psychic humming that buzzed within me.
From the water, a skeletal hand reached up and placed itself on my boot. It scratched softly at the leather. It was there that I snapped out of it. I screamed and stepped back and away. I looked around at these corpses, these puppets moved by unseen strings. They weren’t people any more, they were just the dead shells. They were moving, somehow, reaching out to me, trying to coax me into the water. For all of it, I wanted to fall in, to join them, to know. But I was fighting against it also, knowing it was not what it seemed. My fear won out.
I jerked away and fell on the dock.
“So be it,” I heard them, or it, say.
They began to sing. Though I have to settle for that word, it doesn’t really describe the sound. It’s just as close as I can get. I began scrambling back and away, clawing at the planks behind me.
The sound reached a peak and my skull rang like a church bell. I clutched the side of my head as the pain brought tears to my eyes. Then, there was a flash of light and everything seemed to fall upward into the sky, streaking away into the darkness above. They were gone and I was alone, shivering in the cold.
I staggered back up the hill and into the house where I collapsed into a chair and slept.
I woke some hours later. I had this feeling like I had lost some opportunity, some chance to know more than I ever could. It still bothers me to know I had that chance and turned it down. I tried to tell myself it was just some dream, some nightmare brought on by fever. For a moment, I actually convinced myself that was all it was.
Then I looked down and saw the drying hand print on my boot.
Story by Joe Stanley